Curvature and Optimal Algorithms for Learning and Minimizing Submodular Functions

We investigate three related and important problems connected to machine learning: approximating a submodular function everywhere, learning a submodular function (in PAC-like setting), and constrained minimization of submodular functions. We show that the complexity of all three problems depends on the “curvature” of the submodular function, and provide lower and upper bounds that refine and improve previous results. Our proof techniques are fairly generic. We either use a black-box transformation of the function (for approximation and learning), or a transformation of algorithms to use an appropriate surrogate function (for minimization). Curiously, curvature has been known to influence approximations for submodular maximization [3, 29], but its effect on minimization, approximation and learning has hitherto been open. We complete this picture, and also support our theoretical claims by empirical results.


Authors: Rishabh Iyer, Stefanie Jegelka, Jeff Bilmes
Publication Date: December 2013
Conference: NIPS